Posted by: shannonc | October 26, 2009

Remove his teeth

Clinic report:  Eric Smiley – day 1.  Black Brook Farm, Carlisle

Maybe, instead of giving the pony a show name that fits him perfectly, I should have chosen something more…say, submissive.  Please Kiss Me, I’ll Do Whatever You Want.  Kissing The Way You Like.  Kiss Me and I’m Yours!  But no, I had to go and call him Kiss This, and someone told him, and now he won’t live it down.


We're here! And we found a pretty flower right by our parking space.

Well, after having a lot of fun soliciting fashion input, half-washing the pony (focus on the white parts), and cleaning my tack within an inch of its life Sunday, we set off this morning to the pony’s debut with an Olympic rider. 

From the moment I got him out of his stall, the little stinker was sassy.  He tried to blast through me, then scoot away on the short walk to the trailer so he could score some prime grazing time.  Luckily, I had the dressage whip in hand for loading.  A swift crack across the chest put a stop to that nonsense.  And at Black Brook, he actually came off the trailer like the cooperative pony we all know he is in his heart.  Then the clinic started.

Black Brook Farm borders Great Brook State Park.  It’s a really gorgeous area.  We did a little warm up in the fields bordering the ring, giving me ample time to gaze longingly at some of the xc fences still marked from a recent hunter pace.  Okay, semi-longingly.  The other part of me was really glad I knew today was mainly flatwork and no one would point us at them.  The fences were beautiful, though.  While I was out there I met my lesson buddy, Penny, a chestnut mare thinking about behaving exactly as a redhead should – pissily.  Is pissily a word?  It should be.  You know what I mean.

Eric waved us in when he was done with the group before and had us give him the 411 on our horses.  I sometimes think we are tempted to talk a little too much in this phase, so I just said this is my pony, I got him from a lesson program that didn’t work out for him, he’s been in work with me for six months, I’ve been concentrating on basics, and he just did his first two beginner novice events this fall.  I was lucky.  Eric, as it turns out, likes things simple.  We got a lecture about how we need more universally defined words to talk about riding, and about how he was going to overhaul our vocabularies, and then sent us out to do some trotting in a circle around him.

The pony was crooked.  And feisty.  I did my best to just ride him forward into the contact.  Predictably – and I mean this in a good way because it says we’ve been on the right track – Eric nailed him right away as needing to be more responsive to my leg.  “Think like an employer,” he said.  “I wouldn’t hire your horse…he’s the one coming to work dragging his feet, like he doesn’t really want to give his best.”  Then we did some good trot and canter work concentrating on forward, and got yelled at in the walk, where he loves to die out immediately.  I’m always nervous about clobbering my horse in front of a clinician, but Eric gave me permission, so the pony got a few good Thelwell kicks.  And participated in one episode of “If you whack, then I will buck.”  In which I prevailed, after earning demerits for laughing out loud during a clinic.  :)

Then he circled us up again (this was a generous thing, since both of our horses were puffing a bit with their thick coats) and worked on defining some terms.  What is forward?  Answering the leg.  What is regularity?  Consistent footfalls (it’s not the same as rhythm!  He talked a lot about how people use language that’s too confusing because it means too many different things to different people).  What does the inside leg do?  Prevent the horse from falling in.  How about the outside leg?  He was quizzing us, and this one came to me so I guessed…prevent the horse from falling out?  He laughed at me, he already had me pegged for the person who’s afraid of giving the wrong answer.  This becomes important later…

He had us tell him the one thing we want to improve in our flatwork.  I cringed because now I’m thinking, what’s the new-vocabulary-friendly answer?  I said, to get better connection across his back.  This led to a discussion about what impulsion is (controlled energy), and the path of forward through the horse’s anatomy.  Again, Eric tells me I need to ask for more step from behind.  He calls it “pizazz.”  He wants to know how I’m going to get it if the pony isn’t answering my leg.  I wave my stick at him hopefully.  Fortunately, he likes this answer.  “You have spurs!  You have a whip!  Don’t input an 8 and get a 2 response…that’s bad shopping!  No one likes that deal!  Input a 2 and get an 8 response!”

He had me work on lengthening and shortening the canter – to the left, ackk! – but it went well.  I had to catch the pony when I asked for shorten and he wanted to trot.  He really needs to give me that power, sitting down canter more easily.  I got a few props here for keeping after him.  Eric told me later he tested me with this to see if we had the ability to adjust within the gait, and we did (phew).

Next, a placing pole to a vertical five strides out.  The vertical was maybe 2’6″.  The pony obliged by shifting to jumping pony personality:  See pole.  Accelerate.  We got 5, uh, very forward strides.  Eric calls me in.  Now I get a vocabulary test, but he helps me a little with it.

“What do you do to adjust him if he’s too quick?”

*I look at him, wondering if this is a rhetorical question, or if I actually need to try to answer*

“And don’t give me any of this here’s what I’m going to do with my body stuff…blah, blah, blah” he says.

Ummm…I decide to go with a vague answer, because it seems safe.  “I, uh, whoa?”

He grins at me.  He knows I don’t want to be trapped.  He decides to give it up.  “You Remove. His. Teeth.” he says. 

I don’t think I’ve ever been given license by a clinician to remove a horse’s teeth before, but it does seem simple!  He tells me I am not allowed to get five strides in the five stride.  I must get six.  So out I go.  And I get six.  A whole bunch of times, each of which is variable around its own unique axis of ugly.  Okay, some of them weren’t too bad, but I started out by not asking enough hard enough soon enough.  The greatest shortening should occur in the first two strides, not the last two, he told me.  We did get a canter he liked, and went on from there.

We did a few more exercises, without any placing pole, on straight approaches and off turns, focusing on keeping the quality canter – because that’s the rider’s job, and the horse’s distance is his job.  The quality canter gives him the most options in choosing a distance.  The pony was pretty good, although I could have wished for more steerability.  It’s the finer points now, he leans on my leg, etc.  Just more work to be done, I didn’t get picked on about it, probably because he could see where the training was at.  It may become more pronounced tomorrow, we’ll see. 

At the end when he asked for questions I asked why he made me keep getting the six.  I was thinking, so much of the lesson concentrated on letting the horse find a distance – how does it fit in that he made me dictate a distance?  He said, you had to get the six because that pony wanted to run off with you.  He has a few too many of his own ideas.  How you bring him in is YOUR job.  Getting over the fence is HIS job. 

“So,” I asked, “it was…for discipline?”

“YES!” he said.  “Exactly!”

So first I have not forward enough pony – then I have too much forward pony.  Tomorrow, I wonder what I’ll get?  Sticky pony, or running away pony?  Why can’t they just be straightforward?  LOL!

Luckily, I do love the pony.  Even though I should have named him something else!



  1. Interestingly, our clinician at Groton House this summer used exactly those words (remove her teeth) when talking about Lola diving after the troublesome drop.

    Sounds like you had fun! :)

  2. That sounds just like Kisses :) He is a very predictable guy, we’ll give him that! Very smart boy ;)

    So when does the next post come?????

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